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Have you ever felt loneliness in a relationship?
Loneliness isn’t just for single people. Anyone can feel loneliness in a relationship, no matter how many connections they have.
No matter how many or what kind of relationships we have, sometimes we all feel lonely. Feeling lonely / loneliness can be an uncomfortable feeling, and it often feels urgent to do something to get rid of that discomfort.
Whether it’s a relationship with a friend or a romantic partner, you might deal with feeling lonely in the relationship from time to time. Since we tend to spend most of our time with our romantic partners in adulthood, loneliness can come up frequently in romantic relationships. You might feel shame or frustration when loneliness comes up in your relationship. You might feel like there’s something wrong with you or with your relationship. While loneliness often indicates that there’s something going on that needs to be addressed, it doesn’t make you a bad person to feel lonely.
Why loneliness in a relationship is painful
We all have an attachment style that is shaped by the way our caregivers took care of us when we were babies. This attachment style, or the way we seek connection in relationships, is carried with us into our adult relationships. There are 4 attachment styles: Anxious, Avoidant, Disorganized, and Secure. Each style seeks connection and tries to preserve the relationship in their own way. Issues often come up between partners with different attachment styles when their ways of seeking safety work opposite to each other.
Each attachment style also has different triggers that bring up long held fears such as these:
- I’m unlovable
- I’m unacceptable
- I don’t matter
- I am a burden
It feels really upsetting to have those fears come up, and that distress can cause misunderstandings and conflict in relationships. These are also a lot of the thoughts that can come up when you’re feeling lonely. When we feel such an uncomfortable feeling, it feels really urgent to do something to make it stop. Unfortunately, some of the ways we try to reach out when we’re feeling distressed lead to further disconnection instead of decreasing the loneliness you feel.
What can you do when you’re dealing with loneliness in a relationship?
Acknowledge the feeling
It can be hard to figure out when loneliness is actually coming up for you. What does it feel like for you to feel lonely? Is there a place you feel tension or movement in your body? Does your throat or chest feel tight? Do you feel hot or cold? The more you get to know what loneliness feels like for you, the easier it will be to identify when it comes up and acknowledge that it’s there.
Remember, emotions are messengers. When you feel lonely, what message comes up? Maybe you worry that you’re unlovable or feel abandoned by someone you love. Using loneliness as a messenger gives you a chance to intervene before it gets worse.
Discuss it with your partner
Relationships are between two people, and so both people should be involved in dealing with issues that come up. Relationships aren’t just about having someone physically around. There also needs to be connection, mutual vulnerability, kindness, and trust. If one person in the relationship is making changes without communicating or pulling away without an explanation, it can be extremely painful and confusing.
If someone is feeling lonely in a relationship, that’s a relationship issue, and both partners should be made aware so they can work together to solve the problem.
When discussing your feelings about loneliness with your partner, but you find that the discussions are turning into arguments, free yourself from any blame and allegations of wrongdoing by seeking help from a qualified therapist. A trained couples counselor can help to create a safe space for you and your partner to openly talk things through and work towards resolutions.
Explore attachment to learn more about your triggers
Sometimes the way one person seeks connection in a relationship will actually feel triggering for their partner, especially when there are different attachment styles at play.
For example, avoidantly attached people will often pull away in the face of relationship problems, because they learned when they were young that it was safer not to rely on others. On the other hand, anxiously attached people will often seek reassurance from their partner when relationship issues come up. If an anxiously attached person is in a relationship with an avoidantly attached person, they might feel loneliness come up when their partner pulls away.
The more you learn about your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style, the easier it will be to see where they’re coming from when they do things. You’ll feel more empathy because you understand where their thought process is coming from, so you can work together to rebuild your connection and reduce loneliness in your relationship.
Take a social media break
Even though social media was created to keep us connected, sometimes it can make us feel even more lonely. It can be painful to see everyone else seeming to live a perfect life or to see people hanging out without you.
For many people, especially disabled folks, social media is an important lifeline to their loved ones and their communities, so taking a break isn’t always feasible. If social media is making your loneliness worse, though, it’s important to step away for a bit. See how you can focus on in person connections instead of watching everyone else’s highlight reel.
Are you struggling with loneliness in a relationship? Working with one of our Houston therapists at Grief Recovery Center can help you find ways to manage loneliness and improve your important relationships – whether romantic, platonic, or even the relationship you have with yourself. Give us a call today to get started.